It's an exciting time. Training camp starts tomorrow. Tomorrow. In a month I get to make a run at a dream by doing this full time. That means no light days. More time to do what I want to do and less dropped ideas. Before then there's a lot left for me to accomplish. Until the season starts there's lots to talk about. I love the preseason. If you're a draft addict and follow the talent, there's just no other time to see late-round guys like Michael Hamlin and Cedric Peerman fight for their jobs. The second half of a preseason game may be the most purely competitive football ever played, because it's played between guys guaranteed nothing and with everything to gain.
I focus more on preseason games than training camp itself. Camp is important, but there's less insight and drama than is drummed up. Most positions are not open, even if they are reported as. The roster is not volatile. Players the team has invested in are more likely to make the team, and few if any surprise talents will stick. But the games themselves show us a lot. Last season, Owen Schmitt defiled defenders in threes. This season he is Seattle's starting fullback. Two seasons ago, Brandon Mebane was a bull among cows. That same season, he helped transform Seattle's run defense.
So with an eye to the games and an ear to the wires, here's Seattle's top ten storylines entering training camp.
10. Is Jon Ryan uncontested at punter?
Ryan isn't very good, but Seattle hasn't yet signed any competition. It will be interesting to see if this position is settled or just further down the priorities list.
9. What part-time Hawks are nearing the chopping block?
Players like linebacker Lance Laury, defensive tackle Brandon Miller, fullback David Kirtman, center Steve Vallos, tight end Joe Newton, cornerbacks Marquis Floyd, Kevin Hobbs and Kelly Jennings, and wide receivers Jordan Kent, Ben Obomanu, Logan Payne, Courtney Taylor are roster staples, but some won't make this year's cut. It will be interesting to see who survives, who is replaced and who replaces them.
8. The seventh rounders and non-drafted free agents
Seattle drafted safety Courtney Greene, defensive end Nick Reed and tight end Cameron Morrah in the seventh round of the NFL draft. All are likely to stick if only on the practice squad. Greene has a good shot at making the roster as a special teams contributor. Reed could stick if he dominates or the team sees a need for situational pass rush. Morrah has a chance to overtake Joe Newton and should he, Morrah will make the final 53 and Newton will be released.
Seattle's rookie free agent signings are in some ways even more interesting than their seventh round picks. Devin Moore is fast, but slight and not so productive at Wyoming to be very exciting. But speed is speed, and elite speed like Moore's demands attention. Michael Bennett, like his namesake, burner back and current Charger, Michael Bennett, is all potential and little production. The Seahawks will figure out quickly if he can be molded into a professional athlete. That's intriguing, because his upside is good, but he's also capable of earning a premature cut. Center David Washington and linebacker Dave Philistin are players with a little bit of talent, a little bit of polish and a long road to the pros.
Who wins? Brandon Coutu better show a lot more on kickoffs this preseason or Seattle should do the right thing and cut him.
6. How does Brandon Mebane adjust to the three-tech?
Mebane was a beast at right defensive tackle. There he played mostly one-tech, but sometimes shifted to rush the passer. This season, that former situational job is now his only job. How he acclimates to it is HUGE. If Mebane falls back into his natural role and doesn't just hold his ability but improves, Seattle is another big step to creating a great young defense. If he proves the transition to the one-tech was the right move, and that his stoutness supersedes his disruptive ability, Seattle's rush defense is going to have two big bites taken out of its middle.
5. Mike Teel
Mike Teel doesn't have to be great, but one thing I've taken from various research this offseason is that good players often prove themselves to be good players early in their careers. Teel should look like an NFL-capable quarterback. He cannot display Alex Smith's infinity backpedal, David Carr's check-down fixation, Rex Grossman's one-use trebuchet or Ryan Leaf's cocktail-napkin playbook. He must fail like a pro. Missing completions on the right read. Taking sacks in the pocket. Throwing interceptions after multiple reads. Because it's been a long time since Seattle had a third string quarterback worth investing hope in and I would love Mike Teel to be that player.
4. Can Jordan Babineaux overtake Brian Russell?
Hot down the news wire, Mike Sando offers a little hope to long suffering Field Gulls readers. Jordan Babineaux will challenge Brian Russell for the starting free safety position. Babineaux is a read and react zone defender that struggles to keep the play in front of him. He struggled as a nickel corner in 2007 and didn't so much improve in 2008 as have less responsibility. In a more structured role, say in a cover-2 where he starts deep and keeps the play in front of him by default, he's faster than Russell, more agile than Russell, more athletic than Russell, stronger than Russell, a better tackler than Russell and has better ball skills than Russell. See if he can lay off the play-action, and if he can, he has a legitimate chance to overtake Russell and improve the free safety position so much you'd think Seattle signed Laron Landry.
3. Aaron Curry, Max Unger and Deon Butler
No explanation needed. How they play and how much they play is one of the biggest stories of the preseason. Anything less than gaudy, spectacular dominance from Aaron Curry will be a disappointment.
2. The new playbooks
It's our first look at Greg Knapp's new offense. What's his play selection? Their sequencing? His formations? Their spacing? His situational strategy? His personnel on third down? And how does it compare to his most recent work with the Oakland Raiders?
It's also our first look at Jim Mora and Gus Bradley's defense. What formations will counter what plays? Where will the pass rush come from? What is the balance between zone and man coverage? What are the substitution patterns? How often will nickel and dime defenses be employed? What will Seattle do to improve its third down defense?